As winter days grow colder and darker, it can be challenging to find the energy to keep eating healthy. After all, sweets and comfort foods go hand in hand with the winter season. But with a bit of planning, it can be easy to prioritize healthy nutrition for the whole family.
"Eating healthy, well-balanced meals plays a big part in helping maintain a healthy body weight and achieving our health goals," says Ashley Kim, Registered Dietitian with Get Up & Go by Children's Health℠ supported by Kohl's Cares.
While a well-balanced diet is important year-round, it can be especially important during the winter cold and flu season. "Paying attention to the nutrient adequacy of our diets helps provide important vitamins and minerals we need to boost our body's immunity to illness during the winter months," Kim explains.
How can families stay motivated to eat healthy during the winter?
Eating healthy can be a challenge all year long – not just the winter. Try to think of creating well-balanced meals as an opportunity rather than a chore. Get kids excited about trying new fruits and vegetables by selecting recipes together. Involve everyone – even children – in the planning and preparation of meals, to the extent that kids' ages safely allow (see cooking safety tips by age).
"If you make eating well a whole-family goal, it's going to be easier to stay motivated because everyone can cheer each other on," Kim says.
In addition to incorporating new healthy foods, challenge family members to come up with new ways to prepare food items they already know and love. Keeping nutrition fun is a great way to encourage kids to develop lifelong healthy eating habits.
What are easy, kid-friendly meals for cold weather?
No matter the weather, aim to serve well-balanced meals with a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy. "Ideally, we want to fill half the plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with a protein, a quarter with a whole grain and include a dairy group," Kim explains.
And remember that kid-friendly healthy meals don't have to be fancy. "Especially when we're working with younger children, it's best to keep things simple," Kim adds. "Kids typically like to be able to identify what they're eating."
As the temperatures drop, try offering these easy cold weather meals:
- Soups – When it comes to soups, the options are endless. Spice up kid-favorite chicken noodle soup by adding carrots, celery and even broccoli or red pepper. Encourage kids to try other soup varieties like vegetable, minestrone, lentil, potato, broccoli cheese, tortilla or tomato. Soups are a great (and warm) way to encourage kids to eat their vegetables and get a healthy portion of protein. If buying canned soup, check the food label and be mindful to limit the amount of sodium. You can also make soup at home to create healthier versions that incorporate vegetables. For instance, try blenderizing cauliflower into a soup.
- Hot sandwiches – Swap out your child's typical sandwich for a hot "panini" style deli sandwich. Toast two slices of whole-grain bread before adding a lean protein. Add a piece of cheese and some color with tomato or leafy greens.
- Oatmeal – Instead of cold breakfast cereal, start kids' mornings off with a bowl of warm oatmeal. Add fruit, cinnamon, applesauce or a small amount of honey to add a tasty burst of flavor.
- Crockpot meals – On the busiest winter days, take a few minutes to throw some ingredients into a crockpot, and dinner will practically cook itself. From chili, soup or stews to crockpot lasagna, sloppy joe or chicken fajitas, you can find a slow cooker recipe for nearly any dish your child loves. Just a few minutes of prep, several hours of cooking on low, and your meal is ready by dinner time.
- Create healthier versions of your winter favorites – Many meals can be made healthier with simple food swaps or by adding extra vegetables into foods your kids already enjoy. Don't shy away from frozen, canned or freeze-dried fruits or vegetables, especially during winter when fresh produce can be harder to find. Because they have a longer shelf life and are budget-friendly, they may be easier to incorporate into your family's recipe routine. For example, add a can of pumpkin puree to your morning pancakes to add a boost of nutrition. Here are some other ideas for healthier versions of kid favorites:
It's important to set realistic goals for your kids' daily nutrition. Try to serve fruits and vegetables with every meal. But realize that, given everyone's busy schedules, it may not be reasonable to expect every meal to include an item from every food group. Instead, make it a goal to serve a variety of different types of healthy foods routinely.
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